Oral History Is a Kind of Document

Lectured by Faezeh Tavakoli
Adjusted by Akram Dashtban
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


One of the questions that have always preoccupied historians of oral history is that: Is there any need to written documents and so on in recording oral history and compiling its text?

An overview of types of documents and nature of oral history can answer this question.

Most historical evidence emanates from remains of paper, skin, stone, etc. from preceding eras. But verbal evidence emerges in response to researcher's questions that is they are made to order -a method whose risks are obvious and equally as realistic as its benefits.

Oral history has had an complementary role in historiography and is important for the following reasons:
1. It identifies an unusual type of historical evidence. (Narration of humans)
2. It introduces various historical sources.
3. It brings new angles of historical interpretation and developments.

Its complementary role is that it is of inventions of historiography, and has been important as a result of technical advances, especially microphone and video-audio recorder. Previously, historian's analysis was sufficient, while after invention of these tools, researcher communicates with source of the news more easily. Source of news can often talk freely by forgetting purpose of interview. Researcher can concentrate on his subject and what he/she says, and delays tasks of writing manuscript, ordering, selection, and editing. Additionally, minor differences in expression that are not in a written document to be recorded.[[i]]

Of course, basic techniques of historical research in this way are very new. This type of historical inquiry made historians aware of the need for a critical approach to their evidence. As microphone and tape recorder have many advantages over tablet and pen or notebook and pencil.

New resources were opened when new techniques were completed. They used widely for historical research of illiterate people, who could not record their history by writing, but had kept it remarkably exact in memory and memories. Even among literate nations such as ourselves, many people cannot write their memories due to oldness or lack of education, but they have important things to say about their experiences during their sixties, seventy, or eighty year lifetime. Thus, new parts of historical realm, especially in social history, are opened to the historian's study. In this method of historiography, there are not only the elderly and poor who can provide important historical evidence, since all governments, and not just autocrats, are reluctant to make their archives available to the historian.[[ii]] As a result, important things to be uninformed for all. Where such efforts have failed, oral memories and researches and not written documents have identified them. Therefore, "the present-day history cannot be written without oral sources."[[iii]]

These verbal resources "make explicit complexity of human motivation, unstable nature of historical "truth", the gaps within evidence, occasionaly fragile relationship between speech and behavior."[[iv]]

Oral history In today's approach in which after invention of tape recorder and in advanced form, digital recorders that can record voice for a long time and enjoying it in computer systems and sending them, has played a very important role in exchanging historical data. Referring to remarks and memories of those who played a major role in events can be considered as a major and complementary source in historiography. Oral history feature in comparison to document-centered and official reports historiography is recording and rendering psychological features, and presenting a just about live image based on direct and indirect experiences of individuals. In this way recording events by inserting songs and pitch of voice and subtleties of speech are such that they represent emotions and feelings of people, and their experiences are combined with historical reports. In oral history, behaviors and reactions of individuals are even more eloquent because history is alive. "Here is where oral history reflects its importance. Regardless of extent of using these documents in recognizing and interpreting the past, according to that oral approach brings multiple documents to historian and helps him to understand various dimensions of human action, its value duplicates. Historical data help scientific nature of history when help historian respond to questions he/she does not know. From this view, data obtained from interviews and filming and expatiations of events, works and buildings, in terms of being alive, having more dynamism and ability to transfer determinant discourse of time of the event or time of making works, are more advantageous for history scholar, and by evening backgrounds of dialogue and more interaction of the historian (interviewer) with the other side (interviewee), it would be possible to respond more adequately to questions posed by him/her. [[v]]

Considering importance of historical documents in each research and citing them brings greater credibility to historical research, documents in historiography, especially in oral history, play an important role. But in oral historiography that relies on oral narratives, visual documents and manuscripts, and writing and archival evidence can help to provide more richness in narrative texts presented to visual perceptions of audiences.

But the important point that in this brief essay is focused is that essentially oral history is a kind of document, and it must be acknowledged that it is only one of the important documents in contemporary historiography regarding historiographical recording technologies, because in definition of oral history as an approach it has always been emphasized that has a complementary role in historiography and its verbal evidence and related archives are very important. Contemporary technologies and high volume of information in three ways of writing, visual and narrative have abled along with documents that have had only a written form, highlights importance of narrator humans as actors of transformations. In the earlier periods of history, it wasn't possible to create image and record voice, reliance was limited only to written documents and monuments, but in digital era, archival sources played a role in magnificent narratives of humans as actors of social, political, and economic changes.

On the other hand, because of simultaneous production of written documents, in historical research, importance and authenticity of documents, especially archival documents, are interdependent for using scholars and researchers to understand necessary facts. Archival interviews of oral history should therefore be maintained and preserved. In other words, if documents for historical research are to be regarded as a matter that historian reconstruct history by applying them, then oral history is foundation of historical research in social relations.


Oral History Documents Have Interactive Interactions

Imperative flaunt of documentation in oral history


[i] Stanford, Michael, (2007), A Companion to the Study of History, (Massoud Sadeghi, trans), Tehran:  Imam Sadiq University and SAMT), p 256.

[ii] Michael Stanford, ibid, 257.

[iii] S. Vandecasteele-Schweitzer and D. Voldman, (1992) "The Oral Sources for Women's History," in Michelle Perrot, Writing Womens History, 41.

[iv] Seladon Anthony, & pappworth, Joanna (1983), By Word of Mouth: Elite oral History, Methuen, p.156.

[v] Rzavi, Abolfazl, (2007) "Importance and Position of Oral Approach in Historical Studies", Professional Monthly of History and Geography Book of the Month, No. 118, p 16.

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